White House: Fix Katrina flaws before next hurricane season

The federal government was unprepared for Hurricane Katrina and must bolster its emergency preparedness and response system before the 2006 hurricane season starts June 1, according to a new report the Bush administration issued today.

“Emergency plans at all levels of government – including the 600-page National Response Plan that set forth the federal government’s plan to coordinate all its departments and agencies and integrate them with state, local and private sector partners – were put to the test and came up short,” White House officials said in a statement.

“Hurricane Katrina obligates us to re-examine how the federal government is organized to address the full range of catastrophic events – both natural and man-made,” the officials said.

The report listed 11 preparedness actions that the federal government must accomplish before this year’s hurricane season starts. The officials said the government must:

  • Improve collaboration among federal, state and local decision-makers, especially state National Guard leaders.

  • Provide sufficient warning for events by setting up an interagency federal Joint Field Office (JFO) if needed.

  • Improve situational awareness by consolidating federal reporting of operations within DHS and using rapidly deployable communications.

  • Improve coordination of military support of emergency response by assigning one Defense Department liaison to the JFO and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

  • Improve deployment of relief staff members and resources by setting locations nationwide for integrating military resources.

  • Create rosters of federal, state and local disaster response personnel.

  • Update the national Emergency Alert System with all available technology to improve warning and instruction of the public.

  • Push states to sign contracts in advance for essential disaster relief services such as debris removal.

  • Improve how the federal government gives states money to prepare for emergencies.

  • Improve service delivery to disaster victims by streamlining registration, expediting eligibility decisions, tracking displaced victims and fighting fraud.

  • Ensure essential and emergency services continue during and after an event by continuing reviews of state evacuation plans and starting to plan for continuity of government.

The White House has already taken steps to implement some of these recommendations, the report said.

In the longer term, the federal government must create a National Preparedness System that integrates training, planning, procedures and abilities across all levels of government, the report said.

President Bush called for the creation of such a system in Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8 in December 2003. Moving toward that goal, the Homeland Security Department issued the Interim National Preparedness Goal in April 2005.

The federal government must provide national leadership and infrastructure for disciplined planning and incident and crisis management, areas lacking in the hurricane response, the report said.

The National Response System must improve the way it provides resources in the field and cut red tape, the report said. It must strengthen training and education, strengthen DHS’ leadership role and make sure the entire federal government learns the necessary lessons from major incidents.

The report also recommended creating a “culture of preparedness” in which all people share responsibility for homeland security. This includes strong partnerships between federal, state and local governments and the private sector.


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